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(7B) In relation to--
(a) a church school;
(b) a school or college with a religious foundation or trust deed or, as the case may be, memorandum or articles of association,
nothing in this Act shall be used to affect its ability to select for the position of headteacher, deputy headteacher or other senior post people whose beliefs and manner of life are appropriate to the basic ethos of the school and to dispense with the services of a person in the position of headteacher, deputy headteacher or other senior post whose beliefs and manner of life are not appropriate to the basic ethos of the school".

It takes a little textual analysis to show that the heart of the amendment embodies the assurances that the noble and learned Lord gave.

It is because I am seized of the importance of what the noble and learned Lord said on that occasion that I believe that those phrases should be included on the face of the Bill. There are various reasons for concern. No doubt other noble Lords will amplify them. I shall mention just two to which the noble Baroness, Lady Young, referred. We are aware that there are hostile, anti-religious groups which would be only too glad of an opportunity to test in the courts the actions of religious bodies and people acting in accordance with their beliefs and convictions.

The Church of England, and I suppose other Churches, have already had considerable experience of litigation which they have resisted, but it is costly in terms of money and energy. It is likely that there will be groups which will be only too happy to take Churches to the British courts to prove a point. It will be costly for those who have to resist such actions.

I shall make a further point, which the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has already made. We do not know what the European convention may contain in the future. "Human rights" is an elastic phrase which might in the future be stretched to cover so-called rights that are not part of our contemporary shared value system. It is the future as well as the present of which we are thinking.

I support what the noble Baroness said about religious bodies. I, too, was going to draw attention to the Education Act 1988. I have been deeply involved in collective worship and religious education in my role as

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education spokesman for the Church of England. I am not aware that the phrasing of the 1988 Act has so far created any difficulty. It is clear, with reference to the examples given by the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, that Moslems are within and Moonies are without.

I have consulted Church House and Lambeth. Both bodies are generally supportive of the amendments. Noble Lords may be aware of the letter written to The Times this morning by members of the General Synod, which also expresses great concern. It would be dangerous to claim that any one person could speak for the Church of England. Nevertheless, in a general sense, I think that on this occasion I do speak for that Church. We are looking also for protection for other Christian Churches and religious communities.

In that regard, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, moved an amendment on Report. I did not understand the precise point at issue, but I am well aware, as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said, that the Government have already been most generous to the Church of England in bringing forward an amendment to meet our concerns about General Synod measures.

I am a little troubled that the Church of England has experienced that generosity and that, as far as I can see, the Church of Scotland has not. Both issues are constitutional--for the Church of England, embodied in the enabling Bill of 1919, which gave to the then Church Assembly powers to bring forward legislation to Parliament; for the Church of Scotland, the Constitutional Settlement of 1921. It seems to me that the amendment tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, asks for less than the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. I hope that, whatever the Government's attitude to the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, they will be as generous to the Church of Scotland as they have been to the Church of England. I hope that the noble Baroness is prepared to press the amendment to a Division. If she does, I shall be supporting her in the Lobby.

5.45 p.m.

The Earl of Perth: My Lords, I strongly support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. She was right to point out that it differs in that it is protective and defensive. I speak as a member of the Catholic Church, one of the Churches involved in this matter. We are afraid of the Bill's implications. In one way or another it puts the State ahead of the Church. I know that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has done his best to show us that our fears are unfounded. It may be easy to do so at the moment because we are talking about the present. What about the future?

Who knows what and how opinions will change over the years? There may be a strong anti-Church drive in years to come. We shall have less defence if we are deemed to be a public authority than we have at present. It is the decision that we may be counted as a public authority which is at the heart of our anxieties.

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It is difficult to describe why we are so fearful. I notice again and again that if we are to be a public authority it will be because the courts so decide. I received a letter from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor the other day. He said that it would be for the courts to decide whether it was a public authority issue. That is indicative of the fact that this is a matter of Church versus State. On Report I developed the argument that it seemed to me that an earlier Lord Chancellor would in no way have supported the Bill. I refer to Sir Thomas More.

It is worrying that despite all our efforts the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor sticks to his guns. I respect him for that, but he ought to be aware of our anxieties. Perhaps to ask him to think again is asking the impossible. He is probably unwilling to change the fundamental issues in the Bill, so let us have the defensive mechanisms that we have put forward.

He helpfully explained the position in relation to the convention and said that our fears were without substance. That may be the case today, but things change. The key issue is that conscience rules today and no one can foresee the future. The Bill puts all that at risk. The defensive mechanism proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, supported by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon, gives encouragement. I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will consider what has been said, and that if a Division is called we can look to your Lordships for help.

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon: My Lords, perhaps I may speak briefly to Amendment No. 12. As my noble friend Lord Henley made clear, we on these Benches fully support the amendments standing in the name of my noble friend Lady Young and intend to vote in support of them. We hope that others will follow us into the Lobby for that purpose.

I also thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon for his helpful comments in relation to the position of the Church of Scotland. The amendment I have tabled would cover not only the position of the Church of Scotland but any other religious body in a similar situation.

As I explained on the previous occasion, the Bill brings about a conflict between the Church and the state in that it seeks to undermine the constitutional settlement recognised by Parliament in the 1921 Act. At the conclusion of the previous debate, I invited the Government to think again. I know that the Church of Scotland is grateful to the Government for agreeing that the Secretary of State should meet the Moderator to discuss the issue which arises. That meeting took place on Monday this week. Unfortunately, at the conclusion of the meeting no progress had been made.

The following day, the Secretary of State wrote to the Moderator stating that the Government were unable to bring forward any amendment without undermining the purpose or integrity of the Human Rights Bill. The Moderator's response, which I understand was sent earlier today, includes the following terms:

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    "While I appreciate your having replied so promptly, I have to place on record our extreme disappointment at this response, especially as we understand that there is no dispute between us that the Bill in its present form is inconsistent with the provisions of the Church of Scotland Act. We are dismayed that the Government apparently intends that this inconsistency should remain. You state that you do not feel there is any amendment which the Government could bring forward which would meet our requests without undermining the purposes and integrity of the Human Rights Bill. Our concern is that the Bill in its present form undermines the purposes and the integrity of the constitutional settlement between Church and State, which the 1921 Act enshrines. It is a matter of particular regret to us that such a worthy measure as the Human Rights Bill, and one which the Church welcomes, should have such an effect".
That is not a Member of this House speaking on behalf of the Church; that is the Moderator for this year speaking for the Church of Scotland.

The Government, by bringing forward the Bill in its present form, have brought about this inconsistency. Despite every encouragement to do so, they have declined to bring forward an amendment which might remove the inconsistency. That is why I invite all noble Lords to support my noble friend Lady Young if and when she presses her amendment to a Division.


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